Elizabeth Parker approached the podium with nerves of steel.
She paused, looked out over the standing-room-only audience and spoke with authority.
“Picture hundreds of people crammed into one everything store, while local shops stand silently empty,” she said. “This picture is reality.”
Parker, a Grade 7 student, was one of 10 young people to deliver a speech on Feb. 17 during the 12th annual Agnes Macphail public speaking contest. The competition took place in the auditorium of the East York Civic Centre in front of an audience of over 70.
The topics ranged from abortion to child labour to composting to Parker’s dissertation on shopping locally.
The competition appeared so close that lead judge and former educator Dave Kneeshaw says it was difficult to choose a winner.
“[The judges] didn’t have an easy time, there was a lot of debate,” Kneeshaw said. “The speeches were so well organized and researched, it’s wonderful.”
The other judges – including Toronto District School Board trustee Gerri Gershon and Toastmaster Maria Lau – were impressed by the poise and confidence of the speakers from the five East York middle schools.
Beaches-East York Councillor Janet Davis has attended the event since being elected in 2003. She is a strong supporter of the contest.
“[It’s] an excellent way to showcase the talent in East York schools,” she said. “The opportunity to write a speech and to get up and speak in a formal setting is exciting for the students.”
The suspense intensified as contest co-ordinator and Master of Ceremonies, Bob Lisker, stood up to announce that Parker was the winner.
“We like to think of this as a community celebration,” Lisker said. “All of these kids have already gotten up in front of their schools, and now they’re here tonight, so it’s really an extraordinary experience for them.”
The event is named in honour of Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the House of Commons.